World Hunger Sunday
Pentecost 11A Matthew 14:13-21
Today is World Hunger Sunday. Yes, I know, every Sunday is World Hunger Sunday here at Grace. Yes, I know that every day we Christians think about the people who are hungry. Yes, I am aware that we here at Grace Lutheran emphasize hunger themes in October and November. Yes, I am also aware that here at Grace Lutheran, we have designated one particular Sunday each fall to be World Hunger Sunday.
There are three Scriptures chosen as a basis of the World Hunger sermon: From the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” From John 6 where Jesus said, “I am the Bread of life. Whoever eats of me will never hunger.” From all four gospels, there is a story about Jesus feeding five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. These are the three Biblical texts for the sermon for today.
Bread is part of our daily lives. Would you please imagine the bread drawer in your kitchen? In all of your kitchens, you have one particular place in your kitchen where you keep your bread. Our bread drawer is located to the right of the refrigerator, in the bottom drawer. Our family prefers bread that is soft and fresh. Our family knows that we are to tightly wrap a plastic bag around the bread so that the bread stays fresh and won’t dry out.
Would you all imagine the row of bread at the grocery store in which you shop? We all buy our bread from a grocery store at which we shop rather regularly. I recently visited our grocery store and discovered that the row of bread in our grocery store is seven shelves high and forty-five feet long. This forty-five foot row of bread is divided as follows and I believe that this division may be similar to your grocery store. At the far right, are all the very sweet breads such as Ding Dongs, Twinkies, Zingers, Brownies, and Powered Puffies. The next set of breads are the bagels and I find that bagels come in many different flavors and tastes. The next set of breads are the buns. These are numerous hot dog buns and hamburger buns. These buns looked very fresh and must be popular because there were many feet designated for the buns. Next came the rolls. There were hard rolls, French rolls, sour dough rolls and a host of other rolls that often appear at our dinner table when my wife is serving a more formal dinner. Then, after thirty feet of these breads, come the actual loaves of bread. I discovered that there were twelve grain breads, nine grain breads, eight grain breads, and the numbers of grains slowly declined until I got to the Wonder Bread which must have had to grains in it at all. Wonder Bread had the whitest of wrappings and perhaps white was to suggest white flour was used to make the bread inside. Next, in a small section, came the paddies such as rice paddies and a various assortment of similar cakes. Thus ended the forty-five feet of the bread section in our family superstore and we are reminded of the fact that America is often called the “breadbasket of the world.”
Today, we also think of bread around the world. We know that bread is the basic staple found in all cultures of the world. We know that it does not take many kernels of grain to make a pound of bread but that it takes innumerable kernels to make a pound of meat. Bread takes a lot less grain than meat and so bread is the basic food staple around the globe. In the Third World of poorer nations, bread is not normally purchased at a superstore or grocery chain, but in a local market. Third World people do not purchase bread so much as they purchase grain from bushel baskets. They buy the grain and take it home and make their own bread. In Third World countries, we know that often people do not have sufficient grain to make their own bread. The primary reason that people in Third World countries do not have enough grain is primarily because of civil war and fighting factions among the various ethnic groups and tribes. One time, I visited the director of a refugee camp in the southern Sudan, and that refugee camp contained 100,000 people and it had been there for thirty years. Why? Civil war. Peasants could not go out into their fields to grow grain for bread because it was not safe in those grain fields.
Bread is also part of our World Hunger program. Each year, our World Hunger Committee selects an educational image to educate us about world hunger. In the past, we have learned about water pumps, water itself, trees, and cattle. This year, we are focusing on bread as a symbol of what people around the globe need for food.
Today, we see the work of the World Hunger Committee in many ways today. The focus on the Scriptures and sermon for today’s worship service. The cover of the bulletin which is a wonderful picture of a loaf of bread, grain, sheaths of grain, grapes, and the saying, “I am the Bread of life.” There is an insert in the bulletin today, and I would like you to briefly examine it now about bread and how the World Hunger Committee is trying to increase funds so that we can buy more bread for the hungry of the world. Today, at Holy Communion, ten different kinds of international breads will be brought forward as we are educated about those various breads. Today, at Sunday School, a curriculum on bread has been prepared and so the Sunday School children will be learning about bread today. Today, during announcements, Joyce Gran will inform you that Grace Lutheran Church gives about $100,000 annually to combat world hunger and its causes and that has added up to about $1.6 million dollars during the past sixteen years. This does not include gifts to Haiti, Jamaica, and our orphanage in Mexico.
With that introduction, I would now like to approach the main body of the sermon, and ask the question: “What does God, through the Bible, teach about bread?”
First and foremost, from the Bible, we hear that God desires all people around the globe to have enough daily bread to nourish their lives. We hear this divine Word in the Lord’s Prayer. “Give us this day our daily bread.” The word, “give,” reminds us that all bread comes from God and that bread is a gift of sunshine, rain, good soil, weather, and the atmosphere above the earth which allows the miracle of bread to happen. No person could ever make a loaf of bread if God had not been generous with these gifts of nature.
The word, “us,” refers to the human community around the globe. Jesus did not say, “Give me this day my daily bread.” It is not a selfish prayer just for me and my family but is a generous prayer, including the whole human family. The “us” does not narrowly refer to the church or include only Christians around the globe. The “us” includes all humanity.
The word, “daily,” is also important. The Apostle Paul, in II Corinthians 8, talks about the manna or bread that God gave to the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness for forty years. As recorded in the book of Exodus, each night, miraculously, God provided manna on the ground for people to eat and keep themselves alive, and Paul says that these people “gathered not too much nor too little.” You and I need the right portion of bread. If you gather and eat too much, you get fat, and many people in our country are fat. If you gather too little and eat not enough, you can starve your body. Many people around the globe are malnourished. God wants us to have a daily and appropriate portion of bread for the best health of all human beings.
Bread is a symbol of food and daily needs. Martin Luther, in his catechism on the Lord’s Prayer, says that bread is a symbol of our daily needs.
Bread is also a symbol for the modern translators of the Bible. When I looked up the word, “bread,” in the book of Proverbs, in the old Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the word was translated “bread.” In the New International Version of the Bible, that same word was translated “food.” The NIV is a good translation: bread symbolizes food.
Today, in this world of nearly six billion people, we discover that there is enough bread to go around and feed everyone, primarily because of the miraculous discovery of a geneticist a few decades ago. His name was Borlaug and he was the father of the “green revolution.” That is, today almost all seeds that are being used for agriculture are highbred seeds. There are highbred corn, highbred wheat, and highbred oats. A few decades ago, the land of India could not raise enough grain to feed its population, but it can today because of the green revolution and the bounty of the productive grains. Also, in the late seventies, the Right to Food amendment passed our United States House and Senate and it became United States law that all people around the globe had a legal right to enough food to sustain them for a normal life.
Jesus’ Lord’s Prayer is instructive for our lives and our moral values about world hunger: give us this day our daily bread.
The second thing that I want to talk about today is “food security” and “institutional capacity.” The words, “food security and institutional capacity,” do not inspire us in the way the picturesque word, “bread,” does. We can see bread but we cannot easily photograph “food security” and “institutional capacity.”
Let me explain. It is important that nations and communities grow their own grain and make their own bread. It is not healthy for a nation or a community to receive grain and bread as charity. It is not healthy to have grain shipped to a nation on a regular charitable basis. Such charity creates dependence. Rather, it is important that a nation and its communities grow their own grains and make their own breads, so that the nation and local community becomes inter-dependent. Let me give you a simple example. As a member of the Board of Lutheran World Relief in Baltimore, I was able to visit a farmer’s co-operative north of the city of Nairobi, Kenya. There we visited an organization that carried the initials, FSK. FSK was helping some two or three hundred women to become better farmers and members of a farmer’s co-op. Years ago, my grandfather belonged to and benefited from a farmer’s co-op, and had a farmer’s co-op insignia on his old barn from which he sold chickens and chicken eggs. Farm co-operatives are good, and these peasant women were being trained through their co-operative to be better farmers. People are also aware that eighty percent of the farmers around the globe are women, and organizations like Lutheran World Relief spend our charitable dollars intelligently in order to help these women to become more effective farmers. When these women become more effective farmers, they raise more grain and feed themselves and their families better. Also, they sell their excess grain for a profit. So it is not wise to have our charitable dollars give bread away charitably. Rather, we invest in community building so nations would experience food security and be able to feed their own population. We invest in building the capacity of community institutions so that the local community would be stronger. And then, some years after LWR stops investing our charitable money in capacity building, LWR goes back to that community and see if that local community is still strong and people are growing their own grain and making their own bread and selling their excess grain for a profit.
“Food security” and “institutional capacity” are very important to nations and peoples, so local communities can produce their own grains and make their own breads.
The next point I want to make is that God wants us to share our resources with other people who are not as fortunate as we are in terms of material abundance. The Bible story that I have chosen to illustrate this point is the story of the feeding of the five thousand. This must have been one of the great and memorable stories about Jesus because this story is told in detail in all four of our gospels.
The setting was this: Jesus was preaching out in the country side, and it became evening. There were no stores or markets around to buy bread, and so Jesus ordered all people to sit on the ground and wait. Jesus asked for food and no bread was to be found, except a young boy who had five loaves of bread and two fish. Andrew brought this boy to Jesus, and the boy gave his five loaves of bread and two fish and Jesus started to feed the five thousand people. When Jesus finished feeding the five thousand people, there was enough bread left over to fill twelve baskets. This was quite a miracle that Jesus did.
We Americans ask: well, how did Jesus do this? Some interpreters suggest that Jesus was like the magician Houdini but instead of pulling out rabbits from a hat, Jesus pulled out five thousand loaves of bread from the boy’s bag. Jesus was the master magician, and that bread just came rolling out of the bakery in the boy’s bag. Other interpreters suggest that Jesus preached in such a way, that the people, seeing the generosity of the boy, were convicted by the words of Jesus and convinced by Jesus’ invitation to share. So people opened up their own bags that were hidden beneath their robes and began to share their bread with each other. Such interpreters suggest that this was one of the greatest miracles of Jesus, because Jesus transformed five thousand selfish hearts into generous hearts. To transform self people into generous people is definitely a miracle.
The other day, I was teaching a Bible study on John 16 to the elderly people at a retirement home, and we were studying the work of the Holy Spirit. In this passage, the Bible and Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit or Counselor comes, the Spirit would convince the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. I asked the people at the Bible study to focus on the word, “convince.” The word, “convince,” has two meanings: first, to convict. The Holy Spirit convicts our hearts of our selfishness. Secondly, the Holy Spirit convinces us to be righteous and do righteous things. Likewise in the preaching of Jesus out in the wilderness that early evening, the people were convicted of their selfishness and then convinced to share. The power of the Holy Spirit had gotten into their hearts and transformed them.
Likewise today, as we hear this story and this sermon, we too are convicted of our own selfish hearts and we are convinced that we are to share from our abundance so that all people everywhere would have their necessary allotment of daily bread.
The next question is this: “Where do we give our charitable dollars so that those gifts are most effective?” I have one possibility for you: our hunger program and Lutheran World Relief. Let me tell you a story. At the most recent board meeting of Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran World Relief had hired a consultant to analyze their spending patterns in comparison to other relief and development organizations here in the United States. After World War II, there were only five such charitable organizations here in America, but now there are five hundred charitable organizations here in the United States. This fellow, who was incredibly smart and well educated, and his company were to analyze and compare relief and development organizations. He did this primarily by examining the tax records prepared for the Federal Government and the public information that is submitted on Form 990. Every relief and development organization in America is required by law to submit a Form 990 and this accurately tells how much money a particular organization spends on administration and how much money it spends on mission. The consultant then took this information and compared Lutheran World Relief with other similarly sized relief agencies whose annual income was about $25,000,000. The consultant then contacted these other relief agencies and gathered more information. The consultant was present at the past board meeting to share his results. I personally loved the process that this man had developed; I thought it was very clever in its angle of inquiry. The board was not nearly exited about the information, for many legitimate reasons, including that Lutheran World Relief does not “bash” its competitors or say negative things about them. So I will not publicly say that _________, _________, __________ had administrative costs of 20-35%, and LWR administrative cost was only 5.84%.
Please, put that in your pipe and smoke it. 5.84%. I think that most American Christians want to know how enormously effective LWR is, especially when compared to other relief organizations in the USA.
Why is LWR so effective in its administrative costs? I believe because they have a smaller staff here in America where salaries and health benefits are high compared to Third World countries. LWR supports 150 projects in 50 nations around the globe, and Lutheran World Relief’s administrative costs are often transferred to people in the poorest nations of the world where salaries and health benefits are lower.
So folks, I know the Holy Spirit has convicted us of our selfishness and has convinced us to be more generous people. I believe that the World Hunger program, and Lutheran World Relief (via the ELCA World Hunger Appeal) is a great organization through which to give our charitable dollars and gifts.
The last point of the sermon is this: Jesus Christ is the Bread of life. God’s spiritual blessings are more important than God’s physical blessings. Jesus Christ is the Mind of God, revealing to us what is in the Mind and thoughts of God. In the Mind of God, we know that God’s love is for all people, that God wants all people of the earth to have their fair and daily portion of bread. Jesus Christ is also the Heart of God, and Christ’s desire is to live in our heart. When we absorb Christ into our daily lives, we take in the Mind and Heart of God who loves all people as God’s children. That is what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It means to have the Spirit of Jesus living inside of you. It means to have the heart and mind of God living inside of you. Jesus is the Bread of life and whoever eats of Christ will never hunger again.
CHILDREN’S SERMON: Examine the different kinds of bread that are found on the Holy Communion plate. Hold that plate with those various breads on it right in front of the noses and eyes of the children. Keep on asking those children if God wants all people on the earth to eat of the bread of the earth or only Christians or only themselves or only their families. The children will be unanimous: the various breads are intended to feed all people of the earth and not merely some chosen few.